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FIRST-PERSON: The swap & the cross

EDITOR’S NOTE: Seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell comments on the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The May 31 swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees comes nearly five years after the Army sergeant went missing from his infantry division in Afghanistan. Bergdahl was the last U.S. soldier unaccounted for in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — The news is shocking. An Army sergeant allegedly walks away from his post; six soldiers were apparently killed trying to find him; five hardened terrorist leaders were released for him; and one U.S. president may have violated a law for him.

Twelve lives affected — a high price for one man’s freedom. I pray this one man understands how grateful he should be for all those who have paid and may yet pay a price for his fleshly freedom.

More than that, I pray he perceives that the Creator of the universe paid an even higher price to offer him – and us — free redemption. When the Son of God, entirely divine, became a man, He emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives, making himself of no reputation. When the Son of God, supremely holy, took our sin upon Himself and received our death, He humbled Himself even further.

Is Bowe Bergdahl worthy of the lives apparently lost and the law allegedly broken and the future lives endangered to win his release? A more poignantly personal question, however, is, Are any of us as sinful human beings worthy of the sacrifice made by a sovereign, holy God on our behalf? Indeed, we are less worthy of that perfect sacrifice, which works our spiritual freedom, than Bergdahl is of these high human sacrifices, which have worked his fleshly freedom.

And this God, this man, this one we know as Jesus Christ, He made this perfect sacrifice for all of us unworthy human beings. Would that we were more indignant, not about the question of Bergdahl’s freedom and worthiness, but about the eternal crisis regarding our freedom and unworthiness — for none of us are worthy of God’s love and yet love us He did. This is the most pertinent question facing us today.

Even as we hear of one man’s freedom for an apparently terrible price, let us rejoice more about the freedom offered to all human beings at the greatest ontological cost of that perfect God-man’s life. Let this be an opportunity for us to exalt the crucified God, who is also the risen Savior. This should cause us to tremble at how great a love God has for us — the Father sent His Son to become our brother that He might give His life for our lives.

From the perspective of what it cost God, the cross is the greatest injustice. From the perspective of His character, this is the greatest justice. From the perspective of our unworthiness, this is the greatest love. From the perspective of our attitude, the cross ought to invoke wonder and worship for the God who embodies love and justice in perfection.
Malcolm Yarnell is professor of systematic theology and chair of the systematic theology department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also directs the seminary’s Center for Theological Research.

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